We’ve all been there, or at least heard the horror stories. The more time the project takes, the more ideas are spawned and the more changes are requested. The reason is usually that the client has seen a website that they like and asks whether their website could be changed completely or at least be given a different feel, with more visual elements, sparkly banners or interactive elements.
The only option is to explain what the changes would cost in time and money and why they might not benefit the project. Our job is to protect the user’s interests but also to solve the client’s problems, and finding the right balance makes for a website that is both usable and efficient.
Updating clients frequently on the project’s progress is also important. It keeps them in the loop, exactly where they want to be: after all, it’s their money at work. Also, they will see that you are actually working and earning your fee. And don’t be afraid to rein them in. The client might casually mention a feature they saw somewhere else and wonder what it would look like on their website. This gives the project manager a chance to explain why it wouldn’t work or discuss how it could be done and how it would affect costs. This prevents the issue from getting tied up in committee meetings and keeps it between the client and the point person, where it can be handled efficiently and quietly. If you wind up in a room of people who the client is either impressed by or is trying to impress, then reasoning with them will be much harder.
If changes are introduced, will the staff need to work 24/7 for weeks to meet the deadline? Remind the client that this will push back the deadline. Don’t plead with them that you want to continue working normal 8- to 12-hour days. People hate listening to that. Stand firm, saying that doing the work in the shorter timeframe is physically impossible. And of course your staff will not say anything to the contrary because they have been instructed to direct all communication to the point person.
No doubt the client has a creative friend or nephew who is eager to give feedback on the design. Unfortunately, you cannot explicitly say that their ideas are not based on any reality of this universe. First, listen to what the client is saying, and ask friendly questions. The client’s answers will point to the solution.
Say something like, “I can see why you’re interested in what your friend is saying, but I think it covers only a small piece of the development puzzle. I think if we stay the course on the project, not only will we end up with a perfect website, but we will avoid cost overruns and launch delays.”
It helps to remind the client that every new feature is just that: a new feature, which needs to be integrated into the design and which could call for the requirements to be completely reevaluated. The feature not only might require more resources, but might roll the project back by weeks to accommodate the changes. Whatever happens, steer everyone back on track. This is where a great project manager earns their pay.
As a Web designer once said, scope creep is hard to manage because most clients don’t understand how much time “one little change” takes. The designer handles this by dividing the project into short milestones and never discussing a change in scope until a milestone has been reached and fully paid for. It’s a great strategy and I fully support the idea, but you might find a mountain of requests waiting at the other end of a milestone.
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